Underrecognition, low wages: pharmacy’s biggest challenges

The biggest issues confronting pharmacists in 2017 are lack of recognition as healthcare professionals, low wages and declining PBS income, according to an AJP poll

About 400 voters were able to choose multiple options to describe what they thought were the biggest challenges currently in the pharmacy space, and more than 1,500 total choices were made.

The leading options were ‘low employee wages’ (55%), ‘lack of recognition of pharmacists as healthcare professionals’ (54%), and ‘declining PBS dispensary income’ (54%).

‘Competition from discounters’ followed extremely closely behind at 48%.

AJP has covered the employee wage issue in detail over the past few years (see Is there a pharmacy wage crisis? and The Blame Game).

The situation which is currently before the Fair Work Commission, with Professional Pharmacists Australia arguing for a 30% increase in award rates this year.

“Our case in the Fair Work Commission is a practical way to repair the damage that low wages has on community pharmacy,” says PPA CEO Chris Walton.

“These modest improvements would go some way to creating a more stable foundation for the development of a coherent workforce strategy that the Guild says it now supports,” Mr Walton says.

“Many pharmacy owners speak to us regularly about their concern for the future of pharmacy. Specifically, they have raised with us the impact that low wages being paid by discount chains is having on their capacity to provide access to quality services to the community – and continue to pay pharmacists as dedicated health professionals.”

In addition to feeling underpaid, some pharmacists struggle with feeling undervalued and being seen merely as dispensers of medicines rather than knowledgeable and skilled healthcare providers.

“I really feel that pharmacists are severely under-recognised,” one NSW hospital pharmacist told AJP.

“Pharmacists can be seen as simply suppliers of medications, whereas we’re a key part of the healthcare team and we’re so accessible as well. I think that misconception needs to be addressed. There are so many services that pharmacy provides that aren’t recognised and remunerated.”

In response to the poll results, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) says that while the perception of underrecognition does indeed exist, positive progress is being made to overcome it.

“PSA is well aware that many pharmacists are concerned that they are not recognised as health professionals. However, we believe positive progress is being made to overcome this perception,” PSA national president Mr Joe Demarte told AJP.

“In 2016 PSA was granted peak body status and funding by the Federal Government as part of the Health Peak and Advisory Bodies Programme. This is concrete evidence that pharmacists are most definitely seen by the Federal Government as health professionals. It is also a signal to other healthcare professionals and the public that this is the case,” he says.

Some initiatives that aim to transform this perception include the Federal Government’s Health Care Homes trial, which plans to integrate pharmacists into GP-led primary healthcare teams, and the PSA’s Health Destination Pharmacy program.

“PSA has invested heavily in the Health Destination Pharmacy program which positions the pharmacy as a source of healthcare in the local community and, importantly, emphasises the pharmacist as a health professional out the front assisting people with their health needs,” explains Mr Demarte.

“‘Due to sustained advocacy by PSA, we are seeing a huge range of other health professional groups and health services employing pharmacists in a range of healthcare settings, such as in GP surgeries. This is accompanied by PSA’s support for these pharmacists, through our GP fundamentals course.”

Mr Demarte also points out the importance of the Health Care Homes trials, since they aim to integrate pharmacists further into the wider health professional community.

Lower down…

Many respondents also voted for ‘Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation’ (37%) and underpayment of employee wages (28%).

These popular votes were followed by ‘codeine rescheduling‘ (24%), ‘deregulation‘ (22%), ‘lack of jobs’ (20%), and ‘location rules‘ (18%).

Some voters chose ‘caps on HMRs’ (15%), ‘paying staff wages’ (16%) and ‘increasing rents’ (15%) as some of the biggest challenge facing pharmacy.

Lastly came the risk-share debate that is currently being playing out with the government (7%), and AJP readers also pointed out issues surrounding shortages in stock in the comments section.

“Persistent stock shortages and the (un)reliable supply of (very basic) medicines by manufacturers,” voted one commenter.

Previous Pharmacists honoured
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